A gem of a gallery in Gateshead ...


Gateshead was where I first lived when I came to the North East and while there have been many changes since, including the arrival of The Sage Gateshead and The Baltic Art Centre, the Shipley Art Gallery was where I used to go to get my ‘fix’ of art … and I still like to call in. I always come away feeling enthused, inspired and impressed.

This time I was there to see Grayson Perry’s work, but before I tell you about that, here’s some background about this gem of a gallery.

Opened in 1917 with a collection of paintings bequeathed by local solicitor, Joseph Shipley, it now houses over 800 paintings and a collection of works on paper, plus decorative art and contemporary craft.

In 1998, its art collections – which include the hugely popular Blaydon Races by William Irving and Christ Washing the Disciples Feet by Tintoretto – were designated as being of national importance and The Shipley is also now established as a national centre for contemporary craft, with one of the best collections outside London. This includes work in wood, metal and glass as well as ceramics. This is where you’ll also find the Henry Rothschild collection of studio ceramics.

The Shipley’s five gallery spaces show a range of temporary exhibits through the year. If you want to see what’s possible, what’s experimental, what’s to covet, this is the place. There’s a collection of chairs at the minute that is alone worth a visit. For a taste of the collections, click here and I hope the photo below, taken at an exhibition about Gateshead, gets across the humour and spirit of the place.

So, on to the 2003 Turner Prize winner.

Julie Cope’s Grand Tour: the Story of a Life by Grayson Perry, is a Crafts Council touring exhibition at The Shipley until 28th July. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see two of The Essex House Tapestries: the life of Julie Cope (2015) made for ‘A House for Essex,’ designed by Grayson Perry and FAT Architecture.

As you can see from the image below, the detail in these large-scale tapestries is just wonderful; the colours rich and beautiful. Along with Grayson Perry’s accompanying narrative, they tell the story of Julie Cope – a fictitious Essex ‘everywoman’, who was inspired by the people he grew up among. In Grayson Perry’s words, these artworks represent ‘the trials, tribulations, celebrations and mistakes of an average life.’

We normally associate tapestries with grand themes or the celebration of lives more famous than ours, so I loved the way this was turned around. I felt that the result is something that’s almost mythical and Grayson Perry’s mesmeric reading of the narrative seems to underline the poignancy of the pieces. When I wasn’t marvelling at how skilled you have to be to convey something as specific as the swing of a skirt and as huge as the span of a life, I was feeling, well, a bit teary.

There are only a few days left to see the tapestries at The Shipley, so get your skates on. You really wouldn’t want to miss them.

Image: A Perfect Match, Grayson

Image: A Perfect Match, Grayson Perry, 2015. Crafts Council Collection: 2016.19. Purchase supported by Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation), Maylis and James Grand, Victoria Miro and other private donors. Courtesy the Artist, Paragon Press, and Victoria Miro, London. © Grayson Perry

You can find the gallery on twitter @theshipley

Shipley Art Gallery
Prince Consort Road
NE8 44JB
0191 4771495

The Shipley Art Gallery is managed by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums on behalf of Gateshead Council.